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March 11, 2014

Third-graders could win exemptions from read-or-fail law

NORMAN — If Florida’s use of a read-or-fail law for third-graders is any indication, many Oklahoma third graders who fail the state’s reading exam in April will win exemptions and advance to fourth grade.

An Oklahoma State Department of Education spokeswoman said the agency expects up to 50 percent of students who score at the lowest level on the test will get such “good-cause” exemptions. Between 5,000 and 6,000 third-graders are at risk of failing the test, based on previous years’ results.

Florida implemented its reading retention law in 2002-2003, requiring third-graders to pass a standardized reading exam or in some other way show they can read well enough to move on to fourth grade. Oklahoma’s mandate kicks in this spring.

The goal of the law is to push schools and parents to focus on getting students to read well enough by third grade to improve their overall learning going forward. Many educators object to mandated retention based on a test, saying retention can harm a student’s learning and social adjustment.

In 2002-2003, about 43,000 Florida third-graders, or 23 percent, scored low enough on the reading test to be eligible to be retained. However, 10 percent of all third-graders were provided an exemption that let them advance to fourth grade. In the end, 13 percent of all third-graders were held back.

In Oklahoma, more than 6,000 third-graders, or about 12 percent, scored unsatisfactory, the lowest of four levels, on the reading exam in 2013. Eleven percent scored at that level in 2012.

There are six “good-cause” exemptions for students who fail the test. Some students, such as English language learners or those in special education, may automatically qualify for an exemption.

In other cases, teachers, principals and superintendents will review a student’s portfolio and make a judgment call on whether a student’s coursework shows they’re proficient enough at reading to enter fourth grade. Teachers at a number of schools are preparing portfolios for all of their students in case they do poorly on the reading test.

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